Contract Negotiations for International Teachers

Negotiating your salary is difficult in any industry, but contract negotiations for international teachers can be particularly challenging. For many international teachers, they’ve never been in a situation where contract negotiations are even an option. Below are some tips on how to, and when to, approach contract negotiations for international teachers.

Most international schools have fixed budgets. They need to ensure teachers are paid on an equal scale according to their experience and qualifications. However, there are a few ways you can improve your salary prospects and working conditions. There is always some room for contract negotiations for international teachers. Senior Leadership roles are less defined with regards to salary and benefits and normally there is more room for negotiation.

Experience Pays

Normally each year of teaching experience means a year over year raise and bump up the pay scale.

A typical pay scale is 2-years of experience on step one and 10+ years of experience on step eight.

Experience is usually based on years of teaching at a state / provincial high school, primary school or international school. 

Experience at a language school or training school is usually not considered when applying to an international school.

Pursue Higher Education

Years of experience are usually measured ‘post-teaching degree’ (PGCE / B.Ed.). While pre-teaching degree experience may help you get the job, normally it does not help you obtain a higher salary

It is still worth getting your PGCE / B.Ed. even if it means starting at lower on the pay scale. Your long-term earning potential will be far greater compared to teaching without a degree / licence.

Usually a Master’s Degree means a slight bump in pay.

Do Your Research

Gathering data on teacher salaries in the same area and with similar types of schools is always helpful when considering potential offers.

Be sure to understand the cost of living, income taxes, etc. Only then you can determine what is a suitable salary for your stage of life and family needs. The cost of living will vary greatly by country and so will teaching salaries.

In contract negotiations for international teachers it’s important to know your value. Research industry norms and local cost of living. The more you know, the better position you’ll be in to negotiate.

Most schools have a published pay scale that should be clear and transparent in the contract.  If they won’t disclose the pay scale or explain how they calculate your salary then that’s a cause for concern.

Present Requests Diplomatically

Contract negotiations for international teachers are best addressed after the school offers you a position. Once they have interviewed you, reviewed references and gone through the admin / red tape involved in an offer, then they are invested in you. At this stage you should have developed a rapport and the school may be more willing to negotiate (within reason).  If you start trying to negotiate from the get go, during or before an interview, then you run the risk of putting the school off, seeming difficult or unsatisfied. Be patient and approach any contract negotiation with diplomacy and tact. 

Don’t be afraid to simply ask ‘is there room to discuss this point?’ Be upfront and honest. If you are unsatisfied with a contract point or have a concern, it’s best to address it directly. But you must also be prepared to be turned down. Remember there is no harm in asking, the worse they can say is ‘no’. Only at that point can you decide if it’s something you can live with or not.

Salary Expectations

If asked what your salary expectations are, I believe the best response is something like… ‘I want to be fairly compensated for the role based on my experience and qualifications.’ You could try – ‘I would hope that my total compensation would be in line with industry and local norms and comparable to similar experienced teachers at the school.’  In the event you are feeling like there hasn’t been enough transparency in the process you might say ‘I want to work with a school where trust and transparency is exercised.  I want to feel valued and appreciated through my pay package as well as through my daily interactions with admin and senior leadership.  I would be disappointed to learn that my compensation was not in line with that of other teachers.’

What Can Teachers Negotiate?

Contract negotiations for international teachers often end up being mostly about working conditions. What subjects and age group will you be assigned? How many prep periods and coverages will be assigned? Will you be asked to take on extra supervisions, extra curricular activities or marking duties? Teachers understand these duties are part of the job. Work with the school to shape your contract in way that best suits your interests and expertise. Some schools will negotiate subsidized rates for your children’s education.

Many schools offer professional development support and compensation. Teachers should take advantage of these opportunities. If you have specific needs or interests, be sure to ask about them before arriving on campus.

If you need time off for a family wedding or event, wait till they offer you the job, then let them know you need a one time holiday or that you can’t join them on their desired start date, but you will be there on xx date. Although schools don’t like awarding extra time off, some will make exceptions if you give them enough notice. And if they won’t, you know in advance and can decide if you still want to work for them.

Consider Your Priorities

Remember a salary increase is a short-term solution to job dissatisfaction.  So if you are not keen on the job, the school or the location, but you decide to push for an increased offer (salary and/or benefits) to compensate for any kind of job dissatisfaction, be warned. If you get what you ask for – you’ll be happy in the short term. But the feelings that this isn’t the right fit or job for you will eventually return. 

Take a job for the right reasons. Compensation is part of that equation but it should not be the only consideration if long-term satisfaction is your goal.  Does it fulfill you professionally? Does the location meet the needs of your family? Is the work / life balance one that suits you and your family? Satisfy these conditions first and foremost but ensure you feel fairly compensated. Only then will you truly be happy and the best teacher possible.

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